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Pio Laghi

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Title: Pio Laghi  
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Subject: Charles J. Chaput, Adam Maida, Apostolic Nunciature to the United States, Zenon Grocholewski, San Pietro in Vincoli
Collection: 1922 Births, 2009 Deaths, 20Th-Century Roman Catholic Archbishops, 21St-Century Roman Catholic Archbishops, Apostolic Nuncios to Argentina, Apostolic Nuncios to the United States, Cardinals Created by Pope John Paul II, Diplomats of the Holy See, History of Iraq, Italian Cardinals, Italian Roman Catholics, Knights Grand Cross of the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic, Knights Grand Cross of the Order of Prince Danilo I of Montenegro, Members of the Congregation for Catholic Education, Patrons of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, People from the Province of Forlì-Cesena, People of the Dirty War, Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy Alumni, Pontifical Lateran University Alumni, Pontifical Roman Seminary Alumni, Protodeacons, Recipients of the Order Pro Merito Melitensi
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Pio Laghi

Pio Laghi (Forlì, 21 May 1922 – Rome, 11 January 2009) was an Italian Cardinal of the Catholic Church. His service was primarily in the diplomatic service of the Holy See and the Roman Curia. He served as Apostolic nuncio to several countries and as the Prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education. He was elevated to the cardinalate in 1991. Cardinal Laghi was Pope John Paul II secret emissary to the White House and to several presidents of the United States. He had a particularly close relationship with George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush.


Laghi was born in Castiglione di Forlì, Romagna, Italy. He was ordained to the priesthood on 20 April 1946 by Bishop Giuseppe Battaglia. He obtained doctorates in theology (1947) and canon law (1950) from the Pontifical Lateran University in Rome. He entered the Roman Curia, in the Secretariat of State, in 1952, and then served as Secretary of the nunciature in Nicaragua until 1955. Laghi was raised to the rank of Domestic Prelate of His Holiness on 21 December 1965.

On 24 May 1969, he was appointed Apostolic Delegate to Jerusalem and Palestine, and Titular Archbishop of Mauriana. Laghi received his episcopal consecration on the following 22 June from Amleto Giovanni Cicognani, with Archbishop Agostino Casaroli and Bishop Giuseppe Battaglia (who had also ordained Laghi) serving as co-consecrators.

During five years in Jerusalem he served as Pro-Nuncio to Cyprus (28 May 1973) and Apostolic Visitor for Greece. Laghi was a personal friend of Golda Meir.

Laghi was named Nuncio to Argentina on 27 April 1974. His six years in Argentina coincided with the worst excesses of the military dictatorship there in what is now known as the dirty war. Many in Argentina believe that the church hierarchy supported the generals in their misrule, and that Laghi – who played tennis regularly with one of the leaders of the junta, Admiral Emilio Eduardo Massera – turned a blind eye to the murder and disappearances of thousands. "Perhaps I wasn't a hero", Laghi later said of his time in Buenos Aires, "but I was no accomplice". The debate that his conduct generated was enough, however, to ruin any chance he ever had of becoming pope.

Pope John Paul II transferred him as Apostolic Delegate (10 December 1980) and later (26 March 1984) Pro-Nuncio to the United States, where he was entrusted with emplacing conservatives in key positions, such as Bernard Francis Law in Boston and John Joseph O'Connor in New York City. On 6 April 1990, John Paul appointed Laghi Pro-Prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education, and created him Cardinal-Deacon of Santa Maria Auxiliatrice in via Tuscolana in the consistory of 28 June 1991, despite the accusations by Argentine writers of links between him and the dictatorship and the "Dirty War" in Argentina. On 1 July 1991, he was promoted to full Prefect of the congregation.

On 26 December 1994, the American magazine Time published an article titled "Who Will Be First Among Us?" which prematurely speculated on who would be the next pope "as John Paul approaches the twilight of his papacy." Laghi was listed among eight cardinals who were considered leading candidates; the article identified Laghi as head of the Congregation for Catholic Education with conservative credentials. In 1997 the Dirty War scandal was widely exposed, and, though Laghi denied the charges, it was considered to have ended his chance for the papacy.

Styles of
Pio Laghi
Reference style His Eminence
Spoken style Your Eminence
Informal style Cardinal
See Mauriana

He headed the Congregation for Catholic Education until his resignation on 15 November 1999, and from 1999 to 2001 he was the Cardinal Protodeacon (the longest serving Cardinal Deacon), before exercising his right as a Cardinal Deacon of ten years' standing to become a Cardinal-Priest (of San Pietro in Vincoli). On his 80th birthday, 21 May 2002, he became ineligible to vote in a papal conclave but continued to undertake special missions for his friend John Paul II.

In 2000, Laghi was awarded the F. Sadlier Dinger Award in recognition of his outstanding contributions to the ministry of religious education in America.

On 1 March 2003, Laghi, as special papal envoy to the United States, met with George H.W. Bush, Laghi, as Nuncio to the United States, was a frequent guest of Bush senior and his family.

Laghi died in Rome, aged 86.

External links

  • siteThe Cardinals of the Holy Roman ChurchBiography at
  • Catholic-Hierarchy.Org
  • Interview with Pio Laghi in El halcón de la paz, in newspaper Clarin of Buenos Aires, Argentina, 20 December 1998, about the Beagle conflict and the papal mediation.


  • Burkle-Young, Francis A. (1999). Passing the keys : modern cardinals, conclaves, and the election of the next pope. Lanham, Md.: Madison Books. pp. 315–317, 325–326.  
Catholic Church titles
Preceded by
Jean Jadot
Apostolic Delegate to the United States
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Apostolic Pro-Nuncio to the United States
Succeeded by
Agostino Cacciavillan
Preceded by
William Baum
Prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education
Succeeded by
Zenon Grocholewski
Preceded by
Eduardo Martínez Somalo
Cardinal Protodeacon
9 January 1999 – 26 February 2002
Succeeded by
Luigi Poggi
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